Matt Barreto, founding principal at Latino Decisions and associate professor in political science at the University of Washington, said better outreach from both President Obama and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns could lead to better voter participation from Latinos.
“It’s not clear right now that either of the two parties are going out of their way to court or produce for Latino voters. There’s just a lot of bickering right now,” Barreto said during an appearance on MSNBC's Jansing & Co. “Latinos are looking at the situation and saying, 'What’s the incentive?’ The parties need to do that outreach, they need to make that connection, and then you will see Latino voter registration and participation increase.”
While the Latino population is growing and registering to vote at a rapid pace compared to years past, only about half of those eligible to vote are registered. A New York Times Sunday article examined the unmet potential of Hispanic voters.
More than 21 million Latinos will be eligible to vote this November, clustered in pockets from Colorado to Florida, as well as in less obvious states like Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia. Yet just over 10 million of them are registered, and even fewer turn out to vote.
In the 2008 presidential election, when a record 10 million Latinos showed up at the polls nationwide, that amounted to just half of the eligible voters. By contrast, 66 percent of eligible whites and 65 percent of eligible blacks voted, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.
While both the Obama and Romney campaigns have lined up Latino-specific advertising, Barreto complained that neither party has fully embraced this growing American demographic. “[We] haven’t seen that full court press from either of the political parties,” he said.
Barreto, who helped found political research and polling firm Latino Decisions, noted that even relatively small Hispanic populations in swing states could impact the results in November, including Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Indiana, “maybe Pennsylvania.”
“These are states where the Latino population is growing very fast and there’s been tremendous efforts by different Latino registration groups to increase that civic participation,” he said. “The polls are showing a lot of those states are very close. Even states where Hispanics are only 3% of the electorate, that might swing the election.”
Repeated polls have shown Obama pacing well ahead of Romney—by more than 30 points—with Latino voters.
Romney’s tough stance on immigration during the GOP primary, as well as his disapproval of the president’s health care reform law has hurt him with Latino voters, Barreto said. “Romney hasn’t been able to sell something specifically to Latinos that they feel comfortable with.”